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Pregnancy & Flu FAQs

November 21, 2019

From Diana N. Contreras, MD, Chair OB/GYN & Women’s Health, Morristown Medical Center and Medical Director, Women’s Health Service Line, Atlantic Health System (NJ):

 If you’re expecting, you may find yourself asking some new questions this flu season. Influenza can impact anybody, but pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to the virus and its effects. Here are some frequently asked questions, and tips on how you can protect yourself and your baby this flu season.

Q. How can I avoid contracting the flu during my pregnancy?

A. Even though it may be difficult to put yourself first with all of the business of this time of year, try to eat well, get enough sleep, decrease stress, be vigilant about hand washing or gelling, and stay away from anyone who is sick or has flu-like symptoms.

A clean home environment can also help protect you from germs, so wash down counters, doorknobs, faucets, phones, and light switches with a disinfectant and leave bottles of sanitizing hand gel all over the house to make hand “washing” easier.

 Most importantly, get your flu shot!

 Q. Can I get a flu shot if I’m pregnant?

A. Yes! This is critical! Getting the flu vaccine (not the nasal spray) is the best way to protect yourself and your baby from illness, and the CDC says the vaccine is safe during any trimester.  Studies show that the vaccine lowers the risk of flu-related respiratory infections in pregnant women by about half, and reduces their chance of hospitalization by 40 percent. Babies also are protected from the flu for the first few months after birth if their mothers get the shot while pregnant--which is important, as newborns are too young to receive the vaccine. 

Q. Is the flu more dangerous for pregnant women?

 A. Yes. Because pregnancy puts so much stress on the body, pregnant women are more likely to suffer complications such as pneumonia and bronchitis, and have a higher chance of being hospitalized than women who aren’t pregnant. This is especially true if a woman has other underlying conditions.

 Q. Can having the flu during pregnancy harm my baby?

 A. Yes. A fever during pregnancy could result in neural-tube (brain and spinal cord) defect for the baby. This is especially problematic early in pregnancy. There is some evidence that fever during pregnancy raises the risk of miscarriage. Expectant women also are at higher risk of delivering babies who are premature, have low birth weight, and have lower Apgar scores, which indicate overall health at birth.

 Q. Can I pass the flu to my baby in utero?

 A. No, but the side effects--such as fever--can be devastating to a developing fetus. Newborn babies certainly are vulnerable to contracting the flu virus from an ill mother or anyone who is sick nearby, which is particularly dangerous due to their immature immune systems. 

 Q. I’m pregnant and think I might have the flu. When should I call my doctor?

 A. Call your doctor immediately if you experience fever, cough, shortness of breath, persistent pain anywhere, and any other symptoms that have you concerned. If your doctor thinks you have the flu, or if a flu test is positive, you can take antiviral drugs that decrease the chance of serious complications.